by Brendan Flaherty, host of the Buzz, Fridays, 5-6pm
Bring the rock weirdos from across Canada and usher them into clubs, theatres, parking lots, and a branch of the Canadian Legion. Set their ears a-buzzing with, admittedly, mostly psychedelic music played in a garage-rock style - sometimes shoegaze instead. Have it curated by venerable electro-rapper Peaches, have her pepper the festivities with acts diverse and danceable. Dare the sky to rain, and when it does, encourage the huddled and damp to pack the indoor venues and rock the night away. It’s an improbable thing, Sled Island – though in its decade of noise there have been many from far and wide who have been inspired to start their own bands, their own festivals; sometimes in response, sometimes in spite of it all.
Navigating Sled Island is a balancing act, with so many interesting things happening simultaneously that it can be hard to separate the merely interesting from the vital. I would never claim to be able to discern the difference, and so I tend to treat the event like an attempt to stumble upon new wonders while checking off items on my wish list, much like browsing through the collection of a massive record store. Granted, this record store is always populated in part by efforts from local and regional acts, so they tend to shape one’s experience as well. My strategy is to find a printed festival guide and take a pen to the schedule, circling acts that I’m interested in seeing and then connecting them into a constellation of lines, a roadmap of the weekend to come.
Naturally, it’s usually a progressively intoxicated weekend, so some decisions that seem to be already made when the lines are drawn are as easy to unmake as it is to find pizza by the slice in Calgary’s downtown core. Can’t get past the line snaking out of the kitchen entrance of Wine-Ohs for The Highest Order? Saunter around the corner and find your way through a crowd with too many GoPros per capita, clutching a 9-dollar tall can, to watch Kaytranada hazily deconstrunct a DJ set to a packed Flames Central.
Another hallmark of experiencing Sled Island over the years, at least for me, has been catching only parts of sets. Maybe it’s an overly ambitious nature, or simple naïveté – that the shows will run like clockwork, that everything is doable – but the pattern of seeing the last 2 or 3 songs from multiple bands in a row at disparate venues can end up being the norm. This domino effect of festival restlessness can feel like drifting through an augmented-reality mixtape or have the grating effect that comes with waiting between bands, knowing that there are 20 other shows happening simultaneously and you are missing them all – show-hopper, beware.
And after all is sung and played, you leave Wild Rose country. You pledge to return. You plan to start a band. Or not. Maybe you just plan to encourage others to start band. You ignore the distant grumblings of “it was better last year” that seem to pop up perennially and find comfort in the knowledge that something so incompatible with the priorities of its city’s populace will continue to push its own boundaries to better itself; that it will continue at all.